The weekend that Rav Adin Steinsaltz, zecher tzaddik li’vracha, passed away, I was in the middle of editing an article about Zoom shiurim for a friend, writing an Elul course proposal for a local Jerusalem yeshiva, and translating an essay for a collection of feminist midrashim. At every turn, I found myself consulting my well-thumbed volumes of Talmud or checking another source on Sefaria. Although I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, each of these projects brought me in contact with the teacher who made this entire world accessible to me.
Although I am surely not the only one to say this, I would never have become a student of Talmud if not for Rav Adin Steinsaltz. He is the teacher who opened the gates of Talmud Torah for me when I first began studying daf yomi fifteen years ago with a slim brown volume of Masechet Yoma, illuminated with commentaries by Rashi in one margin and Rav Steinsaltz in the other. On days that I had time to read only one of the marginal commentaries, I read Rav Steinsaltz over Rashi – he was closer to me in time and place. A Jerusalem native, Rav Steinsaltz’s center of Torah learning was just neighborhoods away on a small side street in Shaare Hesed that I often passed on the way to my son’s speech therapy. And yet I met him only once, nearly a decade ago, when I attended a lecture he gave at the Begin Center and waited in a long line to thank him personally for his profound impact on my life. To him I was surely one of thousands of people to acknowledge this debt of gratitude, and I’m not even sure he could hear me above the din of the crowded reception hall.
But above the din of hundreds of generations of Torah scholars, his voice joins a select chorus of major rabbinical figures who forever changed the face of Jewish learning. It was his Talmud that enabled me—and so many others—to make the Talmud my own. His marginal notes—on zoology, history, philology, medicine—inspired me to begin jotting down my own comments, which have now overrun the margins of my Steinsaltz Gemarot, leaving little space between his printed authoritative commentary and my scribbled reflections. You might say we have grown increasingly close over the years, and indeed, when people ask me who my daf yomi havruta is, I always answer – Rav Steinsaltz. I have spent every morning with him for the last fifteen years; for me he will forever be the Acharon who came first.
Tomorrow we will conclude Masechet Shabbat in daf yomi. As we learned on a recent daf – חכם שמת – הכל קרוביו. When a sage dies, all are close to him (105b). The Talmudic rabbis understand this to mean that all Jews are obligated to rend their garments and mourn when a great scholar passes away. Blessed is the generation to have merited such a towering teacher of Torah. Y’hi zichro baruch.